Dr. Jeannette R. Heghinian, 97

Mount Washington physician made house calls in a blue convertible

January 18, 2007|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,sun reporter

Dr. Jeannette R. "Jeff" Heghinian, a retired physician who drove to house calls in colorful convertibles during nearly five decades of medical practice, died of pneumonia Saturday at Genesis ElderCare Hamilton Center. The Mount Washington resident was 97.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., she could recall marching alongside her schoolteacher mother in women's right-to-vote rallies in New York. She moved to Baltimore's Rusk Avenue with her parents and was a 1927 graduate of Western High School.

She determined to become a physician while recovering from a childhood case of scarlet fever, a condition that left her with a heart murmur.

"She was a strong-minded young woman and remained that way all the way through her life," said Diane Seney-Tosic, a close friend and former office manager for Dr. Heghinian. "Her mother told her that if she wanted to become a doctor badly enough, she would be."

She first earned a degree at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in 1931. She worked briefly in that field and used her income to pay expenses at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, graduating in 1935.

The only woman in a class of 103, she later said she "was conspicuous by her presence or by her absence." She recalled no prejudice shown against her by the other students.

"She did her residency at Dover Hospital in Delaware," her former office manager said. "She applied at others, but they didn't accept women as easily."

She returned to Baltimore and initially practiced from her parents' home. "She had her own idea of what her medical practice was: Her patients came first. She would often answer the office phone after hours, although she did have an answering service," Ms. Seney-Tosic said.

Dr. Heghinian worked at the old Doctors Hospital in Charles Village, and at St. Agnes and Maryland General hospitals. She delivered babies and took pride in her minor surgery -- she was adept at stitching wounds and performing tonsillectomies. She also devised her own prescription for a cough medicine mixture.

"She was an intergenerational physician," Ms. Seney-Tosic said. "When she retired, she was delivering the babies of children she had delivered."

She often treated an entire family, and was a patient and sympathetic listener.

"She said you would hear the most important part when their hand was on the doorknob," Ms. Seney-Tosic said. "She could not abide bullies, and if she thought a woman was being mistreated by her husband, she would ask if he could come in. I have seen these men leave her office in tears, but she never raised her voice."

Throughout her life, Dr. Heghinian practiced alone and had an office in a large South Road home in Mount Washington. She rented out the upper floors and lived on the first floor, with the patient waiting room her living room. Her patients played with her pet black Labrador, Ruffy, named after the thoroughbred racehorse Ruffian.

"One year she bought a Rolex watch, but time meant nothing to her. If a patient wanted to speak to her for an hour, the rest of the patients had to wait. They waited," Ms. Seney-Tosic said.

She prided herself on having up-to-date magazines for her waiting patients. She had an early stereo system to play classical music. She also had a large fish tank.

She liked the color red -- her office was carpeted in it. Unable to buy a red Cadillac convertible, she settled for one in blue and another in yellow.

At the end of the day, she relaxed with one Manhattan cocktail, always consumed with a cherry. She also liked television and was a devotee of the show M*A*S*H.

Dr. Heghinian worked until she was in her mid-80s. Then she decided to take a three-month trip on a container ship. When she returned, her remaining patients had begun seeing other physicians, and she gave up the practice.

Dr. Heghinian had a motorized houseboat for years, which she kept at Bowleys Quarters. She also had a home in southern Delaware.

Services are private.

She is survived by several cousins.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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